AAP Entertainment

New Facebook tool to expand local news

By AAP Newswire

Facebook is trying to coax "news deserts" into bloom with the second major expansion of a tool that exposes people to more local news and information.

The social media giant said on Thursday it is expanding its "Today In" service to 6,000 cities and towns across the US, up from 400 before, but it says it still has a lot to learn.

Launched in early 2018, the service lets Facebook users opt into local information, including news articles, missing-person alerts, local election results, road closures and crime reports.

Facebook aggregates posts from the official Facebook pages for news organisations, schools, government agencies and community groups like dog shelters.

The mobile-only tool lives within the Facebook app; turning it on adds local updates to a user's regular news feed, but in areas with scant local news, Facebook will add relevant articles from surrounding areas.

Some 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States over the past 15 years, according to research from the University of North Carolina.

Newsroom employment has declined by 45 per cent as the industry struggles with a broken business model partly caused by the success of companies on the internet, including Facebook.

Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships at Facebook, said it has a responsibility to support journalism, while also noting that the media industry has been in decline "for a very long time".

Brown, a former news anchor and host at NBC and CNN, said local reporting remains "the most important form of journalism" today.

Today In won't automatically turn on for people even in the areas it serves, which could limit its reach.

So far, Facebook says, 1.6 million people have activated the feature and receive news from some 1,200 publishers every week, but it doesn't pay licensing fees or share ad revenue with those sources.

Google also announced changes to its news service on Thursday, saying it will slightly alter its search system so original news stories on a topic show up before follow-ups or repeated news from other publications.

Similar to Facebook, the company has been working on showing news articles from authoritative, proven publications.